‘We want to end the negative stigma surrounding our work. We no longer want to keep it a secret that we earn our living as dancers, singers, or masseuses because our families don’t accept it, or because landlords refuse to rent to us otherwise. We no longer want to run the risk of being harassed when we walk down the street in our work clothes.’ – Srijana Pun (Director) Women Forum for Women
Srijana speaks on behalf of Women Forum for Women’s (WOFOWON) 780 members and 11 staff members of, where she serves as Director. WOFOWON is an informal, national trade union of entertainment workers, based in Kathmandu, Nepal.
Founded in 2008, WOFOWON not only provides women entertainment workers with information about their labour rights, the group also offers dancing and singing lessons to strengthen workers’ professional skills, knowledge, resources, and self-esteem. WOFOWON’s members regularly face workplace discrimination and exploitation, in an environment of social exclusion and limited legal protections. ‘The pay is very poor – less than half the minimum wage,’ explains Srijana. ‘During the COVID-lockdown, we didn’t even get paid at all. That was a disastrous period. Also, restaurant and salon owners regularly resort to violence, as do customers…. Those who complain, run the risk of being fired.’
Confronting the government
Although Nepal recently adopted new labour protections, the work of dancers, singers, and masseuses is excluded. ‘We want all labour regulations to also apply to us and our work,’ says Srijana. In 2021, WOFOWON, together with sex workers and domestic workers, organised a tribunal to confront the government about the alarming working conditions for women in informal labour sectors. The group also filed a lawsuit with the Supreme Court. ‘We demand that the government issue a specific directive on the rights of women in the entertainment industry…. We are hopeful, because we have already achieved a great deal at the local level. Local governments now intervene more quickly when customers become abusive or when salaries are not paid. In one municipality, a special employment desk for employees in the informal sector was recently opened. If this initiative is picked up by other municipalities, it will be a real step forward.’ – Srijana Pun, Director WOFOWON.
Srijana is proud of what WOFOWON has set in motion in its short history. ‘It is fantastic that entertainment workers now dare to come out openly for their work and demand better treatment and better payment.’ One of WOFOWON’s founding members just became the first woman to be elected district vice-president in local elections. ‘We are really writing history!’ says Srijana. ‘And with Mama Cash by our side since 2016, we know we are supported, even in the difficult times.’